Champ OHS meets Dogs Kowboys stop GHS to clinch district
News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock Gateway running back Isaiah Wharton (2) veers away from OHS defenders T.J. Kelly (22) and Mikeice Adams (10) during the Kowboys’ 21-0 district-clinching win over the Panthers last week at OHS.
By Rick Pedone
For the 90th time, Osceola and St. Cloud square off Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Kowboys field for the fifth-oldest high school football rivalry in the state.
Osceola leads the series, 58-27-4.
It is the regular-season finale for both schools, but the Kowboys still have business ahead after they clinched their third consecutive district championship last week, 21-0, over Gateway.
Osceola, the 7A-6 champion, will host the 7A-5 runner-up, either Lakeland or Lakeland Kathleen, in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 15. The winner of the Harmony-Lake Nona game Friday will go to the 7A-5 champion Nov. 15.
The Kowboys (7-2, 5-0 in 7A-6) held the Panthers (3-5, 2-3) to 91 offensive yards and five first downs, and Daequan Harrison and Dwight Fagan hooked up for a pair of touchdown passes in a win that had often had OHS Coach Doug Nichols gritting his teeth.
Osceola’s offense, which has averaged more than 300 rushing yards per game, was held to 176 rushing yards by a Panthers defense that has held three other district opponents to under 170 yards.
“Their front seven, they are really good, and we knew they were,” Nichols said of Gateway’s defense. “We needed our defense to keep us in it and I’m pretty proud of their effort.”
The Kowboys scored easily on their first possession, taking just five plays to drive 40 yards. Nazayah Brown’s 1-run put OHS up 7-0, after Josh Marsh’s PAT.
The Kowboys tacked on to the lead in the second quarter on a trick play when Fagan passed to Harrison on a double-reverse halfback option on third-and-goal from the 19.
Those two would reverse roles later, with Harrison finding Fagan wide open on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 5:10 left in the game that provided some insurance.
Fullback Laderrien Wilson led the Kowboys with 91 yards on 16 carries.
Fagan and Harrison are both seniors who have played on the varsity in all three of the Kowboys’ most recent district championship seasons.
“It’s good to get that out of the way,” Nichols said. “It’s just a tribute to all the work our kids put in every week and every season.”
Gateway Coach Marlin Roberts said the loss was similar to most the Panthers have endured this year.
“If we could score, we could win the game. We had a short field a couple of times and couldn’t take advantage of it,” he said. “They got some help (because of penalties) on their first one, then they went to the trick play for the second one. It was just another one of those frustrating games that we’ve had all year.”
The Panthers visit winless Celebration (0-9) Friday at 7 p.m. The Storm lost, 54-0, at Lake Nona last week.
While Gateway vs. Celebration is a relatively new intra-county contest, Osceola has been playing St. Cloud since 1925, except for a one-year break during WWII.
The game will have no impact on the 7A-6 standings since the Bulldogs (3-7, 2-3) were bumped from playoff contention two weeks ago at Lake Nona.
“We won’t have any problems getting the kids ready for this one,” St. Cloud Coach Bryan Smart said. “It’s Osceola and St. Cloud, which always is a big game in this county. Coach Nichols does a great job over there and it’s always a challenge playing against them. We’re going to go over there and play as hard as we can and see what happens.”
Nichols, who has been a part of the game as an assistant coach or as a head coach for 22 of the past 25 years, said there may not be quite the same intensity between the teams as there once was.
“It’s hard for that to be a rivalry anymore,” Nichols said. “You take the 50 kids from our program and the 50 from (St. Cloud) and ask how many had a relative play in that game. The number will be about 10.”
The Kowboys have won the past eight meetings, and 15 of the past 17, although the Bulldogs won on the field in overtime in 2010 before later forfeiting the game.
Ken Jackson contributed to this story.